Camping equipment

Being well equipped makes the difference between having a good fishing experience and having a bad trip. It takes many trips to get the balance between what you think you need and what is excess baggage just right. Every item you carry with you needs careful consideration. I'm not suggesting that you cut all the unused buckles off your pack, or cut the handle off your toothbrush, like some people I have met (I mean come on let's face it, carrying or not carrying the handle of your toothbrush around is unlikely to be a lifesaving consideration) however the philosophy is in the right direction. Minimal is best.

On the other hand you can take this too far (and I'm not talking about not being able to reach your back teeth) if you take too many shortcuts you can end up in serious difficulties. For example not taking extra food is just blatant stupidity.

The pack

Choose a good quality, well fitted pack for your trip. You will probably buy a pack with an integral frame, as this is the most common pack available. It lacks the robustness of an external frame pack and also lacks the abilities to strap on heavy items, however they are more comfortable. It is important that the pack is a good fit. It is best that you go to a reputable dealer who employs knowledgeable salespersons, in order to purchase your pack, so that you can get expert advice on fitting. An ill fitting pack will make your life an absolute nightmare.

Look very carefully at the strap attachment system. Go for 'robust'. Edit that: 'indestructible'! I had a pack once which had a safety feature in that it was impossible to overload without various straps popping off. It was most inconvenient at times forcing me to fall over on quite a number of occasions (and I only ever normally do that when drunk).

For long trips in the bush a pack of at least 80 litres will be necessary. A good pack will cost you around 200 pounds sterling. Which is not cheap by any means, but will serve you well for many tramping years. Possibly a lifetime.

When flying with your pack make sure that all the straps are pulled tight as airport conveyor belts have a habit of destroying harness systems (assuming your bag arrives at all).

Sleeping bags

There are two sorts of sleeping bag: synthetic and down. Synthetic has the advantage that if it gets wet it's no big deal: it dries reasonably quickly, it doesn't dry all lumpy and even if you have to sleep in it wet, you will remain reasonably warm. Down fill on the other hand really sucks when you get it wet. So don't do this.

The advantages of down, are that you get a lighter weight bag, a smaller volume, and a much warmer sleep! They are more expensive than synthetic (this is a disadvantage to everyone - expect the retailer, I guess) but investing in a good bag is worth it (mine has lasted for seven years of almost continual use and it's still going strong).

Quality bags are mummy shaped in order to save weight. You should either buy a three or four season. Personally I go for the four. If it's warm I can always unzip the side, or just use it as a blanket. And if it's cold; I'll be warm. Buying a liner for your bag is a good investment. The less often you have to clean the bag the longer it will last. Liners come in either silk ('Mmmm!') or polypropelyne (dries quickly).

As well as a bag, you will probably need a mat. This is not for comfort (bushmen need no such luxury, in fact they actively scorn it), rather it's for warmth. Sleeping in your bag will compress the down beneath you allowing your back to get cold. The mat will help insulate you. You can shave a corner here; your mat need only be as long as your back. Also some sleeping bag manufacturers eliminate half the weight and volume from their bags by only filling one half of the bag. But unfortunately they are not half-price!

I of course have the ultimate in hi-tec sleeping mat systems: a Lapland reindeer skin


The first question you have to ask yourself is do you really need a tent? With huts all over the backcountry it is possible to travel without tent. However what happens when you get stuck on the other side of that flooded river? At the very least you should carry a large waterproof sack you can sleep in if you get caught out.

Another alternative to the tent option is to carry a waterproof bivvy bag. For not much less than the price of a good tent you can carry one of these. One disadvantage, perhaps, is you can only get one person in a bivvy bag (realistically speaking, I mean).

Instead of this you can carry half a tent! Just carrying the flysheet is well recommended my many. In fact you needn't even carry poles or pegs: you can make these yourself from saplings, branches and a good knife. Make sure that you remember to carry some twine for guy ropes.

And then there are the sandflies. This is the reason to carry all the tent. There are heaps of options when it comes to choosing a suitable tent: to go for hooped poles or straight (most tents are now hooped), one, two or three man? (probably two; it's difficult to get yourself and your pack into a one man), one, two or three poles? 'Which colour is sexier; the purple or the bright red?'

Points to look for are how well the floor is put together, stitching, especially around the pegging points, weight and season rating. The minimum you should even consider is a three season tent, and if you intend to cross alpine region in the Spring: four season.

Safety issue: tents are highly flammable. Never cook inside your tent; apart from the fire risk, there is also the danger of carbon-monoxide poisoning. If you decide to cook under the 'bell' then take great care.

Other camping gear

  • Stove: optional. On the one hand you can quite happily cook by lighting your own fires, and on long trips you will probably have to do this, on the other it can be handy to be able to cook a meal without having to go through the rigmarole of obtaining firewood and especially when it comes to making that quick cup of coffee. If you do take a stove either buy a gas-stove or a petrol multi-fuel job. Never never take a meths stove - they stink! If you carry unleaded petrol make sure that your container is suitable.

  • Cooking pots, fork and spoon.

  • A strong knife: buy a knife with the blade extending all the way to the back of the handle. Make sure the handle is comfortable and not going to give you blisters. Buy the best you can afford; this will mean that you will have a well tempered blade which will last you a lifetime. A good knife will come with a quality sheath. Always store your knife when not in use, but keep it handy. You will need your knife for chopping wood, and making tent poles etc, as well as the finer tasks such as filleting fish. Carrying two knives is one option.

    Always keep your knife sharp and oiled. To sharpen your knife buy a carborundum stone. Start on one side of the blade and make small circles (you can count them), then turn the blade over and make circles in the opposite direction. Repeat until the knife is sharp. You will have to make a compromise between sharpness and durability, however if your knife can't shave the hair of your arms then it's not sharp enough (according to Stealth Master, Camo-Guy).

    A couple of safety things: when handing someone your knife always offer it handle first (just like scissors), always make sure that you pack your knife in your luggage destined for the hold in an airplane and not cabin baggage, otherwise it will be confiscated (and that's just a hassle) and never display a knife in tense situations, even if you did walk in.

  • Torch, candles and a means to light them and fires (carry spare lighters/ matches - make them waterproof by dipping them in molten candle wax, you can split them in two to make them last longer - lighting a fire by rubbing sticks is a real bummer. In fact it may actually be impossible :-)

  • Waterbottle and purification tablets - some waterways are infected by giardia and water should be purified, especially when taken from slow stretches of water where plenty of human activity. You can boil the water for three minutes... but most people, myself included, don't have the energy for this. In most of the backcountry you can drink it of course.

  • Toilet paper.

  • Some string and possibly a short length of rope, depending on how adventurous you are thinking of getting.

  • Compass and maps.

  • Aluminium foil for cooking fish... or use damp newspaper... or put them back

  • Sunsceen and insect repellent (you can make this by mixing dettol and baby oil but Crocodile is healthy stuff, good for your lines and excellent for spicing up chilli-bean dinners)

  • Camera, spare film and waterproof bag

  • Basic first aid kit (and instructions:-))

  • Plastic sacks to keep it all dry.